The Why I Rock Girls Conference, the first of its kind, just celebrated its 2nd year. As an inner city youth empowerment conference, it’s the first to specifically target a demographic of young girls of color grades 6-9. It’s the first to boast a celebration of historical and current women of color leaders from Portland. It’s the first that specifically focuses on young black/African-American girls. And is the first to include such notable women like the Honorable Judge Adrienne Nelson, Senator Margaret Carter, Commissioner Loretta Smith, the internationally and nationally renowned Dr. Joy DeGruy, Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw and approximately 30 more amazing women of color leaders in Portland, all as part of a single event; and it’s free.
This conference not only celebrates women of color but it also aims to inspire, motivate, inform, and encourage young girls of color to appreciate their culture, promote positive self-esteem and body images, become familiar with women in Portland who can be positive mentors, and interrupt cycles that have plagued this demographic for years.
But Why This Conference?
Young girls of color, and particularly Black/African-American girls have been overlooked and under resourced for years resulting in over representation in the pipeline to prison epidemic, over representation in school disciplinary systems, over representation in commercially sexually trafficked scenarios, statistically higher percentages of negative body image perceptions, poor health, poor mental health, and so much more.
Conference Organizer Sherrelle Jackson has worked in the field for more than two decades. She has her Bachelors in Psychology, Masters in Social Work, and her license in Clinical Social Work. She’s held a variety of titles over the years to include Cognitive Group Facilitator, volunteer Group Facilitator for what used to be The Girls Initiative Network (now called Girls Inc), she was a culturally specific Mental Health Therapist at Lifeworks NW, she held a gender specific caseload as a Mental Health Therapist for trauma impacted women at Lifeworks NW, she’s been a clinical program supervisor for Multnomah County, was a Program Manager, who among other things worked to improve outcomes for Multnomah County youth impacted by poverty, youth of color furthest from resources, and youth impacted by child welfare and foster care systems. Additionally she’s been an intern supervisor for the Portland State University’s Masters in Social Work Program and was a clinical supervisor under the Oregon Board of Clinical Social Workers supervising Clinical Social Work Associates. Sherrelle recently left her Program Manager role with Multnomah County (after celebrating her 19th year) to begin as the new District Manager for Oregon Department of Human services Child Welfare and Self-Sufficiency Programs in Multnomah County.
But the road hasn’t always been ablaze with notable titles and credentialed alphabets after her name. She grew up in the state foster care system. At the time she went into care, no foster homes were available to her so she and several other children of color with her were placed in Hillcrest and MacLaren Youth Correctional Facilities. When she was finally returned home, her mother had to work three jobs to have enough money to provide for her, her sister, and her niece. One of the jobs was working at McDonalds so they could have food. Her mom received state benefits, food boxes from local churches and food pantries, rent and energy assistance from social services programs, and when there happened to be a little extra money she and her siblings (niece included) were able to go shopping at the Salvation Army or Goodwill second hand stores. Paying rent was always a struggle, so much so that Sherrelle kept her clothes in boxes during her high school years because “we always had to move.”
In her words, “I know what it’s like to be poor. To not have enough food. To be excited about going to school because you know you’d get a meal. I remember the stigma of food stamps. I remember the humiliation of being inside of the Welfare Office. I remember feeling judged. I know what it’s like to be teased at school because of the cheap perfume you wore or the unfashionable coat you wore. And I remember the excitement I felt when I got to go shopping even though it was at a second hand store because I could pick out things that appeared new and hopefully would be able to fit in better. But I also remember having mentors. I remember having people who helped me find my confidence. And find my voice. And developed my self-esteem. And made me feel competent. And told me I was smart. And motivated and pushed me beyond my comfort zone. And because of them, and a mom who believed in me, and my faith, I did not end up a statistic. Despite the psychiatrist who wrote in his report that I would probably not be successful in society because I lacked the skills necessary to thrive. I thrived. And it is that passion that drives me to create platforms for vulnerable youth and girls of color to have everything they need to rise above their circumstances, thrive, and succeed. This conference stemmed from that desire. To break cycles. To shatter stereotypes. To smash perceptions that youth are ‘at risk’ and prove that youth are ‘of promise’ when given the right resources and tools to be successful.”
About the Event
The Conference is a first step in interrupting cycles that perpetuate issues noted above. With almost 100 girls in attendance and more than 20 of their parents as volunteers we have a prime audience for educating and empowering new experiences. Our conference is packed with two full days of educational and inspirational events that over the past two years included a trauma informed workshop based on the ACEs work facilitated by Dr. Joy Degruy entitled “Trials into triumph! The path towards inner peace, health and resilience”; a workshop led by the Director of Leading and Learning for Equity Initiatives at the Chalkboard Project Bahia Overton called “How bright will your light shine?” that promotes positive self-identity, self-esteem, self-love, and finding passion and purpose; and a powerful workshop led by Portland State Professor Dr. Lakindra Mitchell Dove called “I Rock My Strength”, a workshop designed to help young girls of color find their strength, build strong cultural affirmation, and shine a light on qualities that make them resilient and powerful. It hosted an amazing workshop by Portland State’s own Cimone Schwoeffermann and former Multnomah County Public Health Director Tricia Tillman called “Sex and Safety” an honest look at sex, safety, and the power of your choice. It’s celebrated some amazing keynote addressees to include both Senator Margaret Carter called “I stand on the shoulders of” recognizing historical women of color leaders in Portland as a space to help the girls associate their ability to rise based on the historical paths blazed by the women that came before them as well as Portland’s first ever African American female police Chief Danielle Outlaw.
The conference is also packed with personal stories, testimonials, and career panels made up of panelists who are women of color leaders in Portland to include judges, attorneys, politicians, executive directors, bankers, athletes, coaches, former WNBA players, Global Community Brand Managers for Brand Jordan of Nike, the Planning and Development Manager at Kaiser; Director of Public Health at Multnomah County, Deputy Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services for Multnomah County, the first African-American to be president of The Portland Rose Festival Association, Portland Public School Principals and more.
While this is a very robust event, the organizer, Sherrelle Jackson, is a mom of three with a full time job, paying for the event out of pocket because of her strong belief that her daughter along with other girls like her need resources like this. The cost to facilitate the event is hefty and each year we hope to garner sponsorship support.
All philanthropy is greatly appreciated and would go a long way in ensuring a successful and quality event, but more so, success in achieving the long-term outcomes. The event’s fiscal sponsor is the non-profit Building Blocks To Success Corporation which is based in North/Northeast Portland, has a focus in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and is partner to the new 3toPhD project led by Concordia University.
Payment can be made to: Building Blocks To Success Corporation for the Why I Rock Girls Conference Community Event and Mail to: PO Box 13441, Portland, Oregon 97213 EIN:46-4014410